Can I stick it out, despite having a bully boss?

Question:

Soon after I started a job as an HR generalist, my new peers came to me saying, “I don’t envy you, your boss is evil.” During my hiring interview, this boss had told me, “Your predecessor loved her job, but quit suddenly for personal reasons.” I soon learned he’d lied, that my predecessor had cried in the bathroom on a daily basis before she quit. Unfortunately, this evil boss is the director of HR and the person in charge of any complaints an employee has with a manager. He’s also the CEO’s golfing buddy.

Our organization has huge turnover. Four employees left during my first two weeks of employment. Not believing my new boss was evil, and wanting to help my new employer, I said I’d love to start a retention program. My boss told me to do the work I’d been assigned before I started trying to remake the company. He told the CEO I was “judging” the management team.

My boss tells me my job is to replicate the practices my predecessor followed. The files, however, are in a mess and my predecessor doesn’t return my calls. I’ve asked my boss for examples of what he wants to see, and he’s told me I need to look in the files and figure things out for myself.

I’d like to make this work. What are my best options?

Answer:

Because your background is in human resources, you’re used to solving problems in a positive way. Unfortunately, not every problem has a positive solution.

Here’s what you’ve told me: Your peers describe your boss as evil and he appears to have lied to you, unless your predecessor showed one face to your boss and another to others. Your boss has already thrown you under the bus to his golfing buddy, the CEO, and let you know you’re on your own in handling your job duties.

It’s not completely unusual for a supervisor to ask a new employee to figure things out by looking in the files or to ask the employee to perform assigned work prior to making substantive changes. The way in which your boss interacts, however, demonstrates a “show no mercy” style that doesn’t bode well for your future job satisfaction. Further, he’s acted quickly to cut off any access route you might have had to the CEO.

My suggestion: Don’t look for a silver bullet. Sometimes the best options narrow to one: you realizing you’re in a no-win position and leaving before you’re the one crying in the bathroom. Worse, those in HR make many ethical decisions and if you continue working for an “evil” boss who oversees all your company’s human resources function, you may be asked to compromise what you know to be right for expediency.

If you choose to stay, forewarned is forearmed. As an HR professional, you know the risks you take by staying, yet may choose to remain in your job for many reasons, including that you want to make things better for your peers and this organization’s other employees.

And, you can. In HR, you learn to document, and individuals such as your boss, who think they hold all the cards, don’t. Years of work in consulting has taught me that those who consider themselves invulnerable inside their organizations often forget they don’t rule the outside world. What led those “others” to describe your boss as evil? Why did your predecessor cry daily in the bathroom? Has your boss retaliated against individuals who blew the whistle on bad ethical practices? Does he discriminate against individuals in legally protected categories?

While I rarely suggest that individuals play detective, if your boss truly is evil, you may be the one person who can help your peers and co-workers before or as you leave. In my book, “Beating the Workplace Bully,” I told the story of Mavis, who asked her bully boss, “Do you watch Anderson Cooper’s ‘The Ridiculist?’” He then asked, “What’s that have to do with your job?” and she answered, “I’ve accepted another job.” When her boss told her not to let the door hit her on her way out, she gave him a parting gift, a DVD. When he asked “what’s this?” she said it was a video of some of his rants that she planned to send to Cooper to air on “The Ridiculist” unless her boss stopped bullying her former peers and co-workers.

Do you have options? Of course. We all do.

© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”  Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”  Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm   The Growth Company Inc. Follow her on Twitter   @lynnecury10 or at www.bullywhisperer.com

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